A love letter to record companies
Friday February 26, 2016
It's no secret retailers and record companies sometimes have a
'lively' relationship. And even if margins weren't tiny and even if
physical volumes weren't shrinking and even if streaming was
fantastically profitable, things would still sometimes get
The fact is the skills required to make it in retail are very
different to those required to sign and develop acts and bring them
to market. The kinds of personalities you meet in record companies
often wouldn't last five minutes in retail - and many of our lot
would fare just as badly if they were pitched into the world of
It's chalk and cheese. Too often in the past we have tried to
gloss over the differences between us in a well-meaning attempt to
reach a consensus which has left no one particularly satisfied.
Sometimes we haven't been as clear as we might have been about our
'red lines', the things we really can't afford to compromise
Maybe it is time to celebrate each other's differences. Maybe
it's time to celebrate each other's successes. To remind ourselves
about what first attracted us to each other.
And since it's my idea, I guess I'm obliged to go first. And
since we live in an age of clickbait, and the eye-catching line is
everything, let's call it something you maybe never expected from
the CEO of ERA: A love letter to record companies.
And this week there's a perfect reason to write it: Wednesday's
BRITs was a triumph. And the reason it was a triumph was because it
exemplified many of the things record companies do best:
The Strong Personal Vision
Apart from a few outliers , the best retailers are very
much team enterprises. On the contrary, many of the greatest record
labels are the result of strong individuals with a distinctive
vision (think Chris Blackwell, Martin Mills, Clive Davis or Lucien
This year's BRITs was very much the work of Warner boss Max
Lousada. By all accounts over the past couple of years he talked
the BPI council into significantly increasing the budget for the
show which struck some as a bit odd when budgets everywhere else
are under attack.
In the end the result was stunning, a tour de force of
production. You could see the money in the room, but most
importantly, on the screen.
The talent for talent
Of course dealing with talent is what labels do, but there can
be few greater challenges than the potential talent nightmare which
is the BRITs. The stakes are high, the egos as big as they
get. This year's show really did offer some of the greatest
mainstream musical talent in the world right now. Bieber, Rihanna,
Coldplay and Adele made for a fiercesome combination.
The Appetite for Risk
The BRITs was pretty much obliged to acknowledge David Bowie's
demise, but that's not to say it wasn't risky. On the contrary,
given the undoubted preponderance of David Bowie fans in the media,
it felt in advance that they were set fair for failure. Gaga's
Grammy effort seemed to prove the point, with The Guardian's Alexis
Petridis reporting she "rampaged through the late singer's back
catalogue like it was an obstacle onIt's A Knockout.
Annie Lennox and Gary Oldman did a tremendous job with the
spoken tributes and combined with the stunning visuals and Lorde's
genuinely fresh take on 'Life On Mars' provided the ultimate
riposte to the naysayers. This was a risk worth taking.
All this, and great music too!
By definition the BRITs is a mass market show and the talent
choices reflected that, but as a handy two hour guide to the
state-of-the-art in popular music, this year's BRITs would be hard
And as the credits began to roll, streams and downloads of the
performers flashed down fibre optic and copper cables and through
routers to laptops and phones around the country, order lines to
distributors began to hum, delivery vans fired up their
The UK record business provided the platform. Now it's time for
retailers and digital services to work their own miracles and turn
TV magic into the cold hard cash which makes the whole business